“Where you focus your attention is what you will experience.” It may seem like a simple statement, but it has profound implication to our experience of life.
With the 24-hour news cycle fixated on the pandemic and all the implications socially, economically and medically, it’s easy to get swamped by the “bad news” presented by the media. One antidote is to foster practices that help harvest and savour positive emotions.
This idea is derived from current neuroscience research that recognises that positive experiences are like Teflon- they slip away. Where as negative emotions are like Velcro- they stick around.
Further more, research by Fredrickson suggests that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions helps people experience a state of mind that can; “enhance your relationships, improve your health, relieve depression, and broaden your mind.”
Our brains are wired to focus on the negative aspects of life and these are the ones we remember easily. This is our survival mechanism at play and is part of the brain’s protective make-up. After all, if we were unable to identify a threat, our ancestors would not have been naturally selected.
On the other hand, celebrating the good things in life, the events, relationships, the wow and ah-ha moments contribute to the joy of living and it is good to train ourselves to hold onto these experiences.
Here are three practices that I am currently experimenting with to facilitate connecting with the good.
Following up on our resilience and wellbeing webinar, Gill has made available several recipes that have helped her through this period of lock down and social distancing. Enjoy :)
Please take note, not only of the model, but the beautiful kitchen. I have been assured that it is always this clean!
During this period we are all trying to inoculate ourselves against the COVID 19 virus. In order to help our immune system we know that regular exercise, healthful eating, good sleep and stress management practices are all integral in supporting immune function. (For a good overview to boosting your immune system, listen to this ABC podcast)
Besides physical inoculation, there is also the mental and emotional need for inoculating ourselves against the fear, panic and anxiety of uncertain times. I know personally I have been in a heightened state of fight and flight.
Stress put simply is our bodies’ response to a perceived (real or imagined) threat or challenge. This response can be physiological, mental, emotional or behavioural. I personally have been experiencing increased anxiety and worry about the future. Here are some strategies I have been using to assist me in maintaining some form of balance and equanimity.
Breath! When we become stressed or anxious our breathing rate and patterns change as part of the biological stress response, in order to warn us that we may be under threat. When this happens we generally take short and shallow breaths from high up in our chest, rather than using our diaphragm. Slow conscious diaphragmatic breathing is a physiological intervention that can mediate our stress response. Check out this short video
Maintain social connection. Even though you are physically distancing doesn’t mean you need to be isolated. Social connection and the release of oxytocin is another recognised intervention in mediating the stress response. Get creative. I know of people who are using Zoom, Skype and Face time to have regular coffee catch ups, wine time (not whine time) dinner parties, and kids social catch ups. For more on the importance of social connection and good brain health click here.
Develop psychological flexibility. This implies you have the skills and ability to build awareness and be present, make room for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, yet still take action guided by your core values. As the stress response more often than not involves uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and sensations, having the cognitive skills to better relate to these is imperative to managing stress.
Engaging in some regular mindful practice is a great way of creating some space between troubling thoughts and tumultuous emotions. Mindfulness based practice is like an antidote to living in the past (rumination, regret, resentment) or the future (worrying or predicting the worst). It enables grounding, centering and calming down when stressed. It’s like “dropping an anchor amidst an emotional storm”
Emotional flexibility involves:
Check out this short video on internal struggles by Dr Russ Harris
Download below this great resource created by DR Russ Harris for better inoculating you mentally & emotionally from COVID 19
Manage your (social) media intake. I am normally a veracious consumer of news and current affairs often listening to BBC, NPR and our ABC. Recently I have limited my exposure to the 24-hour news cycle. This involves taking a break from watching, reading or listening to crisis news stories, including social media. Instead I check in once a day and spend other moments listening to something more uplifting like ABC classical or an interesting podcast.
Maintain a routine is something that one can control. Having a written daily plan helps you stay on track with your self-care and other areas that you value and are important for maintaining resilience and equanimity. Check out Kate’s video below. Contact Kate for psychotherapy support.
As a health and wellbeing coach I help people build their physical, mental and emotional resources to meet life challenges. Over the last month I have been deploying all that I have learnt in the last 30 years of working in health and fitness. This has been identifying what is within my circle of control, taking action and calling on those resources that have me be as resilient as I can, in the face of uncertainty.
Some of you may already know that I have been amidst a family health crisis, with both parents currently in hospital, a wife that has a chronic health condition (reliant on immune suppressing medication) and the emerging uncertainty of COVID 19. I have had a few sleepless nights to say the least! I have also made it a non negotiable, to maintain and indeed increase my self- care behaviour, that has me be the most effective and resilient in these eventful times. Here I would like to share my top 6 strategies.
Finally I always come back to this….
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
One thing that is within my circle of control is choosing actions that are in alignment with my values.
At this time I stand for being: compassionate, caring, accepting, calm and healthy J
What are your self-care behaviours that you turn to in stressful times? i would love to hear from you :)
At Vital Lifestyle our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our community. With the evolving COVID 19 situation, we are mindful of eliminating and minimizing risk to both you our valued client and our trainers. As such you will notice a few changes and we ask for your assistance.
We kindly ask for you to:
We recognise that this is a global epidemic and one which we are treating with serious precaution, however we wanted to reiterate that it is important for you, your health, and your family that you remain calm and rational, considerate of others, and most importantly maintain a healthy lifestyle wherever possible.
The New Year is often a time for reflection. It is also a period where many make resolutions for the year ahead and some create goals to track performance. Goal setting is often the starting point for most who want to create behaviour change.
As a coach, I suggest this should be one of the final steps. I believe many are unsuccessful in creating healthy change because they haven’t created a compelling vision or have not identified key values that drive their behaviour. If values are not in alignment with a personal vision it is understandable why there maybe ambivalence and why many become unstuck, during the process of change.
So what are values ?
Values are about how you want to present in the world, what you want to stand for and where and how you spend your time. A definition that resonates for me comes from and Australian psychologist Russ Harris, who specialises in ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy). According to him they are leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.
“Values are not the same as goals. Values are directions we keep moving in, whereas goals are what we want to achieve along the way. A value is like heading North; a goal is like the river or mountain or valley we aim to cross whilst traveling in that direction. Goals can be achieved or ‘crossed off’, whereas values are an ongoing process. For example, if you want to be a loving, caring, supportive partner, that is a value – an ongoing process. If you stop being loving, caring and supportive, then you are no longer a loving, caring, supportive partner; you are no longer living by that value. In contrast, if you want to get married, that’s a goal - it can be ‘crossed off’ or achieved. Once you’re married, you’re married – even if you start treating your partner very badly. If you want a better job, that’s a goal. Once you’ve got it - goal achieved. But if you want to fully apply yourself at work, that’s a value – an ongoing process.”
In summary values are desired qualities of ongoing action. They reflect how we want to treat ourselves and others. They enhance our deepest desires as to how we want to show up in the world and behave. As any change we wish to create is a result of our behaviour, distinguishing ones values first is key.
Try this exercise for the New Year…
For the New Year try being mindful before taking action. Ask yourself the question: "Am I moving in alignment with my values?"
Christmas is often a time for catching up with family and friends. Indeed the benefits associated with most organised religion is the sense of community and meaning. In my last blog post I touched on some research indicating the importance of connecting with nature and its part in maintaining optimal health. In this post I want to focus on connecting with community and why this has an important effect on your wellbeing.
By our very nature we are social creatures. Throughout the ages our survival has depended on our ability to live and work with others. As Dr Craig Hassed states in his book ‘The Essence of Health,’ “connectedness is … deeply etched into our natures genetically, psychologically, socially and behaviourly.”
Human beings first evolved in the savannahs of Africa where we survived in small hunter- gatherer tribes of a few hundred people or less. We owe our existence to the very fact that these first communities learned how to co-operate. They shared food, looked after the sick and managed threats together. Against all odds humanity survived, mainly due to the dense web of social contacts and the vast number of reciprocal commitments they maintain.
Being lost or isolated from the group for a protracted period meant you would be in terrible danger. You would be vulnerable to predators, if you got sick nobody would nurse you, and the rest of the tribe was also vulnerable without you. Every human instinct is honed not for life on your own, but for life in a tribe. It’s no wonder we feel anxious and distressed when faced with social solation. It’s an urgent signal from our body and brain to get back to the group. Ultimately we have strong impulses in favour of connection. Loneliness is an adverse state that motivates us to reconnect. Indeed, evolution has shaped us not only to feel bad in isolation but also to feel insecure.
Social isolation is painful and is represented in the top 10 stressors, according to the scale of life stressors- death of a loved one, marital breakdown and conflict at work to name but a few. The pain of feeling disconnected is expressed in many ways including physical illness, anxiety and depression.
Connectedness comes from the Greek word ‘harmos’ (harmony), which means ‘to join.’ While the positive effects of harmony can be seen in an orchestra or sporting team the negative effects of disharmony can manifest as disease and imbalance within the human body. Indeed studies consistently show that when it comes to staying healthy, both physically and mentally, strong relationships are at least as important as avoiding smoking and obesity!
According to neuroscience researcher John Cacioppe, loneliness in today’s society isn’t the physical absence of other people; it’s also the sense that you are not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. To end loneliness you need to have a sense of “mutual aid and protection.” This is an interesting concept, one worth considering in the society we are faced with today.
Research by Harvard professor Robert Putman has documented over the last few decades how our families and communities are unraveling- “We do things together less than any humans who came before us.” Even eating a meal or watching TV (and screen time) are no longer done together! An interesting American study wanted to know: ‘How many people you could turn to in a crisis or when something really good happens to you?’ When they started collecting data several decades ago, the average number of close friends was three. By 2004, the most common answer was none. This when the Internet was becoming mainstream, promising connection when other forces of disconnection were reaching a crescendo.
If you are a typical westerner in the twenty-first century, you check your phone every 6.5 minutes. If you are a teenager, you send an average 100 texts a day. And 42 percent of us never turn our phones off! For many, we escape anxiety through distraction. According to Dr Hillary Cash an American psychologist specialising in Internet addiction, “our impulsive internet use is a dysfunctional attempt to try and solve the pain that we are already in, caused by feeling alone in the world.” Our obsessive use of social media is an attempt to fill a hole, that took place before anyone had a smart phone. “We are living in a culture where people are not getting the connection that they need in order to be healthy humans…. Which is face to face, where we are able to see, and touch, and smell and hear each other… We’re social creatures. We’re meant to be in connection with one another in a safe, caring way, and when it is mediated by a screen, that’s absolutely not there!”
There are many ways we can experience the benefits (physical, mental and emotional) of social connectedness and being part of a community. For many of us our workplaces and immediate family and social circle provide our main source of interaction. While these relationships are crucial it can also be beneficial to look beyond these and to develop new habits and activities. Examples may include connecting with others who share a hobby, joining a sports team or a group such as a book club, enrolling in a class learning something you’ve always wanted to do or engaging in voluntary work or religious/ spiritual practice with others.
So this festive season my intention is to forgo the commercial pressure to buy and give gifts, but to focus on connecting with others, face to face and sharing something that matters. J
In the New Year I will continue my exploration of connection as a pillar of health and vitality... The importance of connecting to meaning and purpose for optimum wellbeing.
The Essence Of Health.
Dr Craig Hassed
Lost Connections. Uncovering the real causes of depression - and the unexpected solutions .
Go Wild: Eat fat, run free, be social, and follow evolutions other rules for total Health and wellbeing.
John J Ratey MD & Richard Manning
For the last 30 years I have regularly enjoyed time away in a natural setting. Invariably I would feel emotionally and mentally recharged, even if physically I was recovering from an extended bushwalk, mountain bike or weekend climbing. In my own terms this was like a reboot for my soul, where the benefits would last for weeks until my next nature fix. There are now more and more scientists researching how “forest bathing” makes changes to our health and wellbeing.
The term forest bathing is a translation of the Japanese movement “shinrin-yoku”. So strong is the movement that the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine has formally conducted research. Indeed the Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean governments are investing heavily into this area. Of interest is that these nations are the big users of technology, and many of the populous are disconnected from the natural world.
A series of studies have measured cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure to demonstrate the measurable benefits of wellbeing and performance by simple contact with nature. Interestingly some Japanese research has shown that exposure to nature not only mediated the stress response, but also impacted the immune response. A group of Japanese businessmen had a 40% increase in natural immune “killer cells” after a walk in the woods. These killer cells are our immune systems first line defensive weapon against infection like the influenza virus. Interestingly these killer cells were still elevated by 15% over baseline figures one month later!
In the book “Your Brain on Nature: The science of natures influence on your health, happiness and vitality”, the authors a medical doctor and naturopath, cite various examples around the world supporting the title of their book. Among them, subjects in an aged care facility in Texas showed decreased stress hormones when in a garden setting; a study in Kansas using EEG showed less stress in subjects when plants were in the room; researches in Taiwan using measures like EEG and skin conductance noted therapeutic effects in subjects viewing natural settings; a group in Japan had lower heart rates after viewing natural scenes for 20 minutes; another 119 research subjects in Japan showed less stress response when transplanting plants in pots than they did simply filling pots with soil.
So what are the mechanisms for these reported changes to wellbeing?
In the 1970’s, research showed changes to alpha brain wave activity when partcipants drove along tree line boulevards instead of freeways. Alpha waves are associated with serotonin production and had a positive effect on depression, anxiety, anger and aggression. More recent, research into phytoncides- phytochemicals that are given off by trees and plants, showed they had a profound effect on the brain. Not only did they lower stress hormones, they regulated pain and reduced anxiety. Simply taking a walk in the forest and breathing deep was providing a direct chemical pathway to the brain via our olfactory system.
It appears that our brain has evolved in nature. There is only a minority of humanity that has existed for more than a couple of generations in a purely urban environment. Nature is ingrained in our DNA and neurobiology! Researches using fMRI have pinpointed where in the brain nature works its magic. In particular the parahippocampus gyrus, which is rich in opioid receptors. Nature is like a little drop of morphine to the brain!
But there are other benefits of being in the outdoors. Firstly, play in nature exposes children and everyone else to a full range of microbes to support a healthy gut flora and challenge and tune ones immune system. Otherwise known as the hygiene hypothesis -where modern, urban people are showing a rapid increase in autoimmune disease because they live in an over sanitized environment. To be healthy our internal ecosystems need to be connected to external ecosystems.
Other researches propose the hypothesis that sleep disorders have become epidemic because of widespread Vitamin D deficiency. Being outdoors exposes people to the full spectrum of light, with a variety of benefits, not the least amongst them regulating melatonin and sleep cycles but also making healthy levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic in its own right, but in this light it is the subject of the epidemic of nature deficit disorder!
So how do I get my nature fix? Prior to the birth of my son Samuel this involved regular weekends away camping and walking. These days I enjoy gardening when at home or lying in the hammock enjoying the surrounding tree canopies. A simple mindful walk in the Botanic Gardens or down by the Yarra River is another great place to forest bath. My wife Karen knows that I need a regular nature fix every 4-6 weeks to maintain emotional regulation at home and work. Apparently I am not nice to be around when in nature deficit.
Your Brain on Nature: The science of natures influence on your health, happiness and vitality.
Eva M Selhub MD & Alan C Logan
Go Wild: Eat fat, run free, be social, and follow evolutions other rules for total Health and wellbeing.
John J Ratey MD & Richard Manning
The Nature Fix: Why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative.
Dr. Ming Kuo’s extensive research scientifically proves what we intrinsically know to be true: That spending time in nature has profoundly positive and long-lasting effects on our psychological, physical, and social health.
Fasting has always been a part of human evolution. Back in hunter-gatherer days we would go prolonged periods without food, expending energy as we hunt our prey. It wasn’t until 10,000 years ago when agriculture emerged, going without food became less normal. However, fasting has never been truly absent in many cultures and religions: e.g. short fasting in Judaism’s 24-hour Yom Kippur, and Buddhism’s daily post-midday fast, to the prolonged 30-day dawn-to-dusk fasting for Muslims in Ramadan
Fasting- The science
In recent times fasting has become a hot topic amongst scientists and has fueled much research into the mechanism of associated health benefits associated with reduced calorie consumption and intermittent fasting (IF).
Back in 1945, a study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that rats could increase life expectancy (20% for males and 15% for females). This was achieved by reducing calorie consumption with an intermittent fast of 1 day in 3 achieving best results.
Since this time there has been a variety of studies both in animals and humans to see how health and longevity were affected by IF. A review of such research in the American Journal of Nutrition found that IF modulated several risk factors, thereby preventing chronic disease in animals. Human trials to date have reported greater insulin-mediated glucose uptake. The limited human evidence suggests higher HDL-cholesterol concentrations (healthy cholesterol) and lower triacylglycerol concentrations.
Currently some of the reported benefits of IF:
So how do we explain the benefits of daily energy restriction (DER) and IF? A breakthrough came from a Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi who won the Nobel prize in 2016 for his work into autophagy (pronounced ‘or-toffa-gee’) – when pathogens (infectious agents), cell ‘junk’ or old and damaged structures are broken down inside a cell and the parts reused.
This is basically what happens in the body everyday as a byproduct of its metabolic processes. Otherwise known as “oxidative stress” it’s a bit like rust building up on your engine over time. It will inevitably happen unless we give our body an opportunity for essential maintenance. This is where autophagy kicks in and fasting taps into this process of cell repair and regeneration.
This is how physiologist believe it happens…
When we don’t eat for several hours the liver stops secreting glucose into the blood stream and instead uses it to repair damaged cells. Simultaneously the liver releases enzymes that break down stored fat and cholesterol. Hence during an (IF) our liver is repairing oxidative stress and burning fat.
The key is that what we eat, and when, affects this process. Sometimes what we eat pushes cells to keep multiplying and not recycle, called an anabolic state. Sometimes our body moves into a different state – one where we tidy up cells, kill off and recycle old ones. This is called the catabolic state, and it happens when we don’t eat. For optimal human health, the balance between anabolic and catabolic processes is crucial. Unfortunately this has been disrupted by modern society- readily available food sources, high-density calorific processed food and environmental influences such as marketing that promote regular snacking!
Putting Intermittent fasting into practice.
Michael Mosley has popularized (IF) with his books the 5:2 and the fast 800….
Time-restricted feeding (TRF): has been gaining popularity in recent years as perhaps an easier way of reducing the calories you consume every 24 hours. The basic premise is to only eat within a set period of time – anything from an 8 to 12-hour window being typical. In practice this means you finish eating after dinner at, say, 8pm – and you don’t eat again until 8am the next day (12-hour window for eating) or 12pm the next day (8-hour window for eating).
I have been trialing this 16 hour fast in every 24-hour period, as I am asleep for half and need only miss breakfast. From a compliancy perspective this is more realistic and the key for me is not to overcompensate in volume or quality. As previously reported I mainly stick to a Mediterranean diet, mainly plant based with fish, legumes, nuts (and red meat 1 -2 times week).
Finally for any eating plan to work it must be specific to your dietary needs attractive to you and sustainable for the long term. Certain Individuals should reframe from severe calorific restriction and fasting protocols. Michael Mosley has some guidelines, but best speak to your physician or qualified nutritionist/ dietician first.
Have you tried Intermittent fasting? If so what has your experience been?
I would love to hear from you J
Listen to Michael Mosley on RN podcast
Inflammation: a new approach to obesity and depression
Centenary Institute Oration recorded 16 September 2019
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.